Hardcore punks Moshiach Oi! have released a lyric video for “Sitra Achra is Dangerous“, off their latest album Rock Rabeinu. The clip, which evokes both street art and Breslov gedolim, was created by Fiverr user ‘guywhoedits’.
The lyrics are themed around spiritual warfare (“sitra achra” is a Kabbalistic term meaning “Other Side”, the realm of evil), with audio samples from an unnamed rav emphasizing the emptiness of the physical world. Musically, the song is one of the heavier on the album, bordering on metal in the intro, but their punk lineage is revealed through some Black Flag references – the opening chant is from “Rise Above”, while the verse guitar riff is modeled on “Six Pack”.
[Michael Croland was kind enough to share yet another guest post with JMU. My own thoughts on this album will be posted in the near future.]
Moshiach Oi! have narrowed their focus over the past nine years.
When I first found out about Moshiach Oi! in 2008, guitarist Menashe Yaakov Wagner described Moshiach Oi! as “perhaps the world’s first hardcore vegan straight-edge Orthodox Jewish punk band.” By the time I met and interviewed them a few months later, the label was more succinct: “Torah hardcore.” In 2009, their debut album dealt with a multitude of topics from an Orthodox perspective, including celebrating Shabbos, learning Torah, and wanting the Moshiach (messiah). In 2011, their sophomore album addressed varying topics such as Torah, idolatry, and Abraham. Reflecting front man Yishai Romanoff’s religious leanings, there was one recurring topic that stood out in five of the album’s songs: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a rabbi born in the 18th century.
With their newly released third album, Rock Rabeinu, Moshiach Oi! put the Rebbe Nachman theme front and center. “There is probably at least twice as much Na Nach on this album!” Romanoff toldJewish Music Underground earlier this month. “Maybe Michael Croland will be up for the task of counting how many times we say ‘Na Nach’ on the album.”
“Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman,” also known as the New Song or the Song of Redemption, can be heard in many songs on Rock Rabeinu. The title track discusses how rock (a pun on rock music and the Hebrew word for “only”) Rabeinu (Rebbe Nachman) matters. In “Rabeinu’s Army,” Romanoff sings that he’s “a soldier in Rabeinu’s Army.” “Country Petek” and “Smoke the Petek” deal with the petek, a note that Rebbe Nachman posthumously sent to one of his students, and the latter, quite amusingly, discusses “getting high” off of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. “Ain Yeush” and “No Despair” deal with Rebbe Nachman’s teaching of not having despair.
The song “Rabeinu Rebbe Nachman” best summarized why this focus is so important to Romanoff. The lyrics explain that Rebbe Nachman sent a letter with the Song of Redemption and that it’s “the key to set us all free.” Singing “Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman” is the “key to the redemption of all humanity,” which is why they “spread it all around.”
Moshiach Oi! made a concept album about Rebbe Nachman. Singing “Na Nach” in different catchy melodies and cadences was certainly one way to do so, but with songs like “Smoke the Petek,” they had varied approaches. It’s still rockin’ music that’s meant to praise Hashem and bring Moshiach, but it goes about those goals in a more targeted manner.
Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published last year by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Moshiach Oi! and other Jewish punk artists!
As previously reported, Breslov punks Moshiach Oi! will be releasing their long-awaited third album Rock Rabeinu later this month. In anticipation, I reached out via email, and the band’s co-founders, guitarist Menashe Yaakov Wagner and lead vocalist Yishai Romanoff, were gracious enough to answer some questions about the development of the album, its attention-getting title, and some of the live gigs they have in store.
Jewish Music Underground: It’s been six years since your last album, This World is Nothing. What’s changed for Moshiach Oi in that time?
Menashe Yaakov: I got married in September.
Yishai Romanoff: A lot has happened for the band members personally, as we have all started families. We also do not live as close to each other as we used to, which is part of why we have not played as much the last few years. But Baruch HaShem, we are still going strong, and we are very excited about this new album which took over three years to record. And we still maintain the same outlook and mission, to spread the light of Torah and of Rabeinu Rebbe Nachman in the world and bring Moshiach. Na Nach!
What made you decide that now was the time to go back into the studio? What was the mindset going into this record?
MY: We have actually been working on this album (writing and recording songs) since 2014. Once I felt we had enough songs, I decided to put out the record. As has been the case from the beginning with this band, Yishai set the tone, came up with the title and wrote most of the songs.
YR: Some of these songs were actually written around the time This World Is Nothing came out. Numerous factors held us up, but we started recording in 2014 and finally finished this year. Things really picked up the last eight months or so when we really started getting this finished. The mindset for me was that these songs all have a common message and that this is something the world needs to hear, especially now. Getting this done has also given me a lot of encouragement and strength in continuing on this path of Rabeinu and doing what I can to bring it to the world.
You guys are primarily a hardcore punk band, but you’ve experimented with styles like ska, folk, and alternative rock on some of your songs. You’re also obviously influenced by Rabbi Nachman and the teachings of Breslov. Are there any new influences, either musical or spiritual, that people can hear on Rock Rabeinu?
MY:Rock Rabeinu is highly focused on Moshiach Oi!’s core sound (hardcore punk) and core message (teachings of Rebbe Nachman). In addition, one song has a country feel, which transitions to reggae, then back to punk. Another song has a 6/8 rhythm.
YR: This album definitely has a few musical styles mixed in. Obviously a lot of punk, but also some ska, folk, even a little country. For anyone who was put off by some of the repetitiveness of our last album (especially with us saying “Na nach” over and over), there is probably at least twice as much Na Nach on this album!! (Maybe Michael Croland will be up for the task of counting how many times we say Na Nach on the album.)
What is the meaning behind the title Rock Rabeinu? Is it thematically significant to the record or just a cool-sounding name (because it does sound cool)?
MY: “Rock” is a play the Hebrew word “rak,” meaning “only,” which is definitely the theme of the record.
YR: It’s the title track of the album and has a double meaning. The word Rock in Hebrew means “only”, so Rock Rabeinu means “only Rabeinu.” As can be discerned from the lyrics, we believe only Rebbe Nachman can truly heal the spiritual sickness of this generation and lead us into the Complete Redemption with the coming of Moshiach.
What do you hope that people take away from the record?
MY: Hopefully, people will feel inspired to delve deeply into the teachings of Rebbe Nachman.
YR: Rock Rabeinu. Get the books of Rebbe Nachman and read them, talk to God in your own words, and follow this path till the Redemption, both our own personal redemption and the ultimate redemption of the whole world. Na Nach!
You’re also doing a record release show on Wednesday, August 16. What can you tell us about that?
MY: It’s an all-ages show at a Long Island venue (Creative Corner, 482 Hempstead Ave, West Hempstead, NY 11552) that has hosted us in the past and whom we have a good relationship with.
YR: We are playing the record release show August 16 at Creative Corner in West Hempstead. Don’t miss it! Who knows when we will play next? Also my dad, Andy Romanoff, who’s an acoustic singer-songwriter, is playing before us. It’s gonna be awesome.
Now be honest: Which conspiracy do you blame that you weren’t asked to play The Camping Trip this weekend?
MY: Beats me. Yishai, Mitch and I will be playing The Camping Trip with our band Blanket Statementstein.
YR: Three of the four members of Moshiach Oi (including me) will be at the festival. Maybe some Moshiach Oi songs will be performed? Who knows? Na Nach!
Hasidic hardcore heroes Moshiach Oi! are gearing up to release their long-awaited third album, Rock Rabeinu, this August. You can hear snippet from the album below. You can also read more about their live shows from Michael Croland here.
Klunk (short for “klezmer-punk”) released their debut EP on March 23. Klunk takes Old World, klezmer songs in Yiddish and mixes them with punk rock and metal. It’s fusion of klezmer with punk (or metal) rather than klezmer with punk elements (along the lines of Golem) or punk rock with klezmer elements (along the lines of Di Nigunim).
The EP’s best klezmer-punk song is “Daloy Polizey.” The title/refrain translates to “Down with the Police.” According to the Jewish Music Research Centre, the song dates back to at least 1905 and “the chorus was shouted rather than sung.” The Centre explained, “The text of the song tends toward anarchism, even anarchist terror, especially in the verse that calls to bury Tsar Nicolai along with his mother. These verses may be connected to more radical sections of the Labor Bund or to smaller groups of Jewish anarchists.” Klunk’s “Daloy Polizey” features raspy vocals, with shouting at times, in addition to crunchy guitar chords and a fast tempo.
Klunk mines Yiddish music of yesteryear for radical/socialist/anarchist songs, reminiscent of Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird. Klunk’s music is definitely heavier than Kahn’s. I recognized one Klunk song, “Arbetlozer Marsh,” from Kahn’s version. Whereas Kahn added English lyrics to the Yiddish, Klunk added French, so that their audience would understand.
Here is my interview with Jean-Gabriel Davis, lead singer and pianist of Klunk.
In “Daloy Polizey,” I hear Klunk taking a klezmer-punk approach. In “Sha Still” (with the slower tempo and especially the guitar solo in the bridge) and “Yiddish Honga” (especially the metal/metalcore breakdown), I hear a klezmer-metal approach.
I feel they are different approaches. Bénédicte [violinist] and I are punk music fans. Julian [guitarist] and Roman [bassist] are metal fans. So we play both styles. Depending on the song, the story, and the arrangement, it may be more punk, more metal, or a subtle blend of the two. What links everything is the Yiddish language, the violin, the electric guitars, and the drums.
In “Daloy Polizey,” “Barikadn,” and “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you’re playing old, radical, traditional Yiddish songs. Do you identify as a socialist, communist, anarchist, etc.? Do you find punk messages in Jewish tradition from yesteryear?
We identify as very close to the left-wing political ideas. We don’t bear a specific label. We believe in peace for everybody, equality, justice, love . . . and we are angry about how the world is turning now. All this anger and hope for a better world were already there in the old Yiddish songs (“Daloy Polizey” and “Barikadn” against oppressors, “Arbetlozer Marsh” against poverty, unemployment, and inequality).
We play songs with messages that we agree with, but also just the fact of singing Yiddish songs, in Yiddish, is a claim itself. I consider myself a Yiddishist, and I try to promote the Yiddish language and culture by all means possible. This band is another way for me to promote Yiddish language and culture to people who wouldn’t know about it.
Why do klezmer and punk fit together?
They have the same energy basically (concerning the fast-tempo klezmer songs). Klezmer and punk are festive in a way. They make you want to dance, jump, smile, laugh, and drink beer! I loved the 2 styles of music, and I strongly desired to play in a klezmer-punk band.
In “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you had some lyrics in French. Were you trying to make it relatable for your audience at shows in France?
We incorporate French lyrics, translated from Yiddish, in order for people to understand a little bit. It’s true that in many punk or metal bands, even when they sing in English, we don’t understand anything. So it’s not that important—we explain a little the meaning or context of the songs during a live show. Most important is the energy.
It’s a difficult time to be Jewish in France. Is there a statement that you’re making by playing such overtly Jewish music in Paris today?
We do not claim to be a Jewish band. Yiddish is a language, and klezmer is a musical tradition. Klunk plays traditional folkloric songs with social themes, of a people who were oppressed, poor, and almost completely killed: Eastern and Central European Jews at the beginning of the 20th century.
Personally, I am not at all religious. And when I discovered the Yiddish world, I found a history of a culture of a people, not necessarily religious, but still Jewish. That was very strong for me as nobody told me about that, and I personally found myself. So it’s the Jewish culture that we claim and not the Jewish religion.
Klunk says F*** all oppressors, dictators, and mean people. Institutionalized religion, politicized religion, is a kind of oppression as strong and fatal as other ideologies. Punk is anti-religious in its essence.
Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published in April 2016 by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about other Jewish punk artists!